Should You Need a License to Have Kids?

Does the responsibility of having children warrant state regulation? Craig Playstead is one of many who think it’s reasonable. 

You need a license to drive a car, pull a fish out of a lake, and marry a stripper in Vegas, but any jackass can bring a life into this world. We see the downside of this nightly on reality TV, YouTube, and in our schools.

Bad parenting is killing our country. It’s worse than drugs, corrupt lending, Wall Street crooks, and a flexible legal system. And it raises the question:

Should parents need a license to have kids?

The blog over at Freakonomics actually put up a poll asking their readers if they think parents should have to get a license to have kids. Only 6% of those who voted thought it was a terrible idea. Six. But more on that later.

Now, there’s the whole “it’s my right as a human being to reproduce” argument to counter the question, and it’s tough to fight biology. But no one is out there watching bad parents, punishing them, or educating them. We choose to put insane amounts of money into things like presidential campaigns instead.

I’m not sure having a license is the answer, but it sure sheds light on the fact that bad parenting is killing this country as much as reckless spending and no accountability. It sucks money out of schools and churches, cripples our judicial system, and sends innocent kids to the streets to fend for themselves. Yet not one presidential candidate has ever mentioned a word about it.

The Freakonomics post was also interesting because 60% of the people who voted thought it was a good idea, but impossible to implement, and another 32% thought it was something that should be done. So that basically means than 92% of people who voted think that parents should need a license. People who read Freakonomics aren’t uneducated either.

What do you think? Should parents need a license to have kids?

Photo mdanys/Flickr

About Craig Playstead

Craig Playstead is a writer and content strategist living in the suburbs of Seattle. He writes about the creative process, writing, and things that make you laugh. Check out more of his work by visiting his blog


  1. Im a kid doing a project on this and i agree that people should have license to have kids. The question is why isnt it. There’s alot of kids that was raised wrong and now there the reason why bad stuff happen and they will teach that to there kids but if they have license to have kids they wouldnt have gotten one because they are not responsible for one

  2. Wow seriously. You have 3 of your own offspring and you believe you, yourself, are mentally ok by saying to pass a law that prohibits others freedom of choice in having a child because you and others believe themselves are good enough and all others should be good enough like you and them?
    If only people would actually focus on their own responsibilities and stop trying to control others this world would be a bit less messy.

    Besides, Control is a figment of the imagination. Besides, its absurd and barbaric to pass such a law!

  3. Absolutely. But you can’t stop there. People have to be unable to have kids without a license. Not just prohibited.

    • Mike Hector says:

      You are correct Sir. Pass the law… When any baby in the US is born after, they are surgically fixed. Once they are of age, can pass a mental health test and have a income that will support the child, they receive a license and are “un-fixed”. The cost of the surgery can be picked up by the tax payers, as it will solve most of our economic and social problems going forward. It is cheaper to pay for the surgeries, than to pay for welfare and watch these poor children go through hell!

  4. My daughter Leila was doing her “persuasive piece” on this topic. I thought that parents should have a license to reproduce. Yes, I’m married.

  5. lookitpookit says:

    The world is over populated with children that were conceived by irresponsible parents. I know several teenage and young adult mothers, who can’t take care of their children. They want freedom to live up there life and don’t think of their consquences. One mother I know is pregnant with her ninth child and it will be taken away by the ministry of social services like the rest of her children because she has mental disibilities. Why must these mothers be allow to keep having children? She is just one out of a million that populate the world with children. Now that their is new technology, many parents who want to have a baby now can try other alternatives. Not very many people want to adopt a child that might become a burden not a blessing. That child can have ADD, Schizophrenia, autism…. and the list goes on. It can cost them lots of money in the end…… forever to have to take care of a child that some irresponsible parent could not do themselves. All they wanted was to provide a child with a better life…… like they are held accountable for all the children that could have been prevented. A child has a right to be born to parents that want them, that is willing to structure, love, and provide guidance. It should be planned not oops I forgot to take the pill or I don’t use birth control. I am tired of mothers complaining about deadbeat dads and not being able to afford to provide for their children. The blame game and pointing fingers that its not them but the government or something. Yet it was them that did not practice safe sex and were stupid enough to think that pregnancy would not happen to them… common sense to know that sex creates babies. A licence would be idea… and if a women should get pregnant then she should be sent away to be educated on parenting.

  6. Penalty schmenalty. The main problem in Australia concerning children is junkies (or similarly neglectful persons) giving birth and then not caring for their children. They are given benefits because they do not work, and these benefits increase with each child born. So they just keep having children, buying flatscreen televisions with the money, and ignoring the needs of the children. The taxpayer funds this unending cycle. What we need is a way to deter these incompetent people from wanting to have children in the first place. Even junkies aside, there are plenty of teenage girls in this country who are too lazy to do anything but hang out all day. Suddenly they ‘fall’ pregnant (as if this term should even exist in 2012), and what happens? I’m keeping my baby, even if i have to raise it on my own. But you don’t actually raise the child on your own do you? You don’t create a vegetable garden, shoot rabbits or go fishing to provide food, you don’t build a fire to boil your clothes in, you just sit on your backside and enjoy the taxpayer funded benefits which allow you to do whatever you feel like in between dropping your children off at your mother’s house and making your fortnightly call to the state social benefits office to declare that you, surprise surprise, haven’t found work and your circumstances are still the same.
    Here’s an idea: If you don’t meet certain criteria (for example having attempted to save money whilst pregnant, staying out of trouble with the law, applying for jobs, making SOME effort to exist in the world), then the taxpayer simply wont help you anymore. So go ahead and fall pregnant, but when its time for you to give birth, it won’t be in a public hospital. You can either have a home birth with a midwife payed by you, or pay for private medical insurance to utilize a private hospital. Or you could have an abortion, also payed by you. The choice would be yours entirely, but you would know before you even conceive that you would need to make these choices. So a dropkick no hoper junkie or layabout gets pregnant, and decides she wants taxpayer assistance, so she applies for jobs, gets a little bit of part time work, volunteers her time to help others, saves as much money as she can (remembering she has NINE MONTHS TO MAKE A VISIBLE EFFORT) and then applies to use the public system. After a review she is seen to have made a conscious effort to change her life to be a good parent. Excellent! this is exactly the outcome we need. But it will never happen while they are able to bludge off the hard workers tax all day every day. And those who dont show an effort… well.. I guess they will have to make other arrangements. I am certain however that it will make people think before doing what they are doing currently.
    Junkie 1: We got no money, this sucks, we cant afford a feed after we buy our smack
    Junkie 2: If we have a kid, we will get five grand from the government
    Junkie 1: Yeah but we dont want to work or volunteer, and we waste all our money and we dont want to change our lifestyle at all. So when they review us, they will say we cant get benefits and cant use public medical services
    Junkie 2: You mean I will have to go through the pregnancy and painful labour unassisted and with no follow up care and with no extra benefits for having the kid anyway?
    Junkie 1: Yeah thats right, we will get nothing whatsoever for this exercise.
    Junkie 2: Well why would i put myself through all that trouble when I’m not getting anything in return? Thats a very bad idea. And now i know that these are the new rules, we will have to make sure we dont fall pregnant either, because i dont even want to pay for an abortion. A few dollars here and there for the pill or condoms is much better than an abortion costing hundreds isnt it?
    Junkie 1: Yes, yes thats much much better, you are right.

    I hate junkies and teenage females who think that they know everything but who have NO IDEA

  7. Considering the amount of neglect and abuse of children, particularly due to parents having been subjected to the same treatment themselves, it is difficult to know what to do regarding this dichotomy. It is a generational thing. The parents have unresolved conflicts regarding the abuse or neglect they suffered at the hands of their own parents or ‘care givers’ which they then take out on their children. It may also be due to the astronomical amount of stress, emotional upheaval, immaturity, ignorance, poverty and lack of family support. It is true that some parents are able to transcend the horrors of their own childhoods and refrain entirely from perpetuating it. This is because there have been positive counter-influences in their lives. But licensing ! Mmmm. I suppose what we have to consider is which is the least cruel for children – licensing or leaving things as they are. Even then, it still remains a complicated moral dilemma.

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  9. We Need This says:

    Procreation isn’t a right. It’s a responsibility. I was going to say more, but that’s really it, and that’s how it needs to be handled.

  10. You guys have half the states (or more) banning people of the same sex from *marrying*, and yet you advocate that the same states should regulate who can have children? Taking the ability to enforce a narrow-narrow normative family structure to a whole new level, are we?

  11. If any government had ever demonstrated a capacity to actually implement a program like this without enormous unexpected consequences I would possibly consider supporting this. Nazi eugenics, China’s One Child (mass selective abortion of females), etc. I could just imagine the implications here: Hmm, this district needs more of X racial representation, loosen requirements because of a projected need for a larger tax base in 30 years. While I realize it wasn’t the topic of this article, the real issue with today’s young adults and children is fatherless households.

  12. It’s a great idea on so many levels.

    First, here are way too many people on the planet and people keep cranking out new ones. It’s awful. We have to do something to stop this population explosion.

    Second, I’m tired of being expected to compensate for other people’s parental shortcomings with my own money and time. YOU have the kids, YOU pay for and deal with them. That would be so amazing in my opinion. Licensing would go a long way to correcting the misery we find ourselves in now.

    Many of our planet’s problems would be completely resolved if we only had 1/2 the current population.

  13. Wild Rebel says:

    I’m just curious, for all the people who support this, what do you propose will be the requirements to get a parenting license, and how will the government effectively issue them? I ask this because I really want to know who has the authority to tell others they can’t do something that’s basic biology. And what would the punishment be for someone who happens to get pregnant? Forced abortions? Taking the child away and put into foster care or the adoption system?

    Do people even think practically anymore?

    Let’s not also forget licensing is a joke in itself. Pretty much any fool can obtain a driver’s license, yet you can regularly see people who can’t do such simple things as use a turn signal, park in between lines, or get through a 4-way stop. Requiring a license to drive hasn’t stopped millions of idiots from doing that, so how are we to expect it’ll keep idiots from having kids?

  14. I love all the discussion on this topic. My thoughts when writing the post was that; of course this is never going to happen. But it should shed some light on the fact that parenting is so bad in many cases that 92% of the people who took that poll actually believe the government should step in. And in many cases they should. They should step in when people can’t take care of themselves (i.e. kids), not when they won’t take care of themselves. It’s an epidemic that need attention. Maybe not a license, but additional support and education.

    • Playstead: “But it should shed some light on the fact that parenting is so bad in many cases that 92% of the people who took that poll actually believe the government should step in.”

      No, it does not shed light on the “fact” that parenting is so bad. It suggests that 92% hold that opinion.

      The really scary thing about it is that 92% of respondents believe that the government has ANY place in this area. The government should play a much smaller role than it already does.


  15. Sorry, but 92% of people are either total idiots or not thinking clearly.

    When the government can control what you can and can’t do with your own body, that’s bad. And if you think about it, you’re pre-judging someone based on something that haven’t even done wrong yet. That’s not fair and it’s not right. Saying there should be a license to have kids is a knee-jerk reaction and an irrational (and completely unrealistic) way to tackle the problem.

    You can’t legislate common sense. And while things like criminal history and past actions can often predict what kind of parent someone will be, it’s not always accurate. Who’s to say becoming a parent couldn’t radically improve someone for the better?

    Bottom line is this is a terrible idea.

  16. Great idea, yes. I actually wanted to write a screenplay about parent licensing, but my husband convinced me it would have to end with licensing being a BAD idea in order for it to sell, and that’s not the direction I want to take it. I might still try, but it would mean suspending all disbelief, because the inevitable outcome of such legislation is that government entities would take it too far and precedents would invariably be set that unfairly restrict certain “types” of people from having kids.

    • We Need This says:

      Actually, it’s more likely that governments end up trying to force/encourage people to -have- kids, which is what’s happening in China now, because of the demographics issue (which is a lot better issue to have than eleventy billion more people to deal with). Anyway, even in China, “minorities” were given special permissions, if anything. Nothing will restrict personal liberties on both the legal and practical fronts faster or more completely than overpopulation, especially if a large part of that population has health issues.

  17. I think that they should require parenting classes in high school curriculum and expand the sex ed program. That would be the most easiest and smartest way. So that kids who grew up with bad parents know that that’s not how it should be and that they would have the tools to stop the cycle when they have kids. People, who object, can of course have their kids opt out and deal with those problems later. But I think have an education about parenting, what it entails, and what children need emotionally and physically, would help rebuild America and makes us more community focused. It would greatly strengthen our foundation. Another class that I think should be required is how to relate and cooperate with others in a comprehensive way, rules of etiquette and reason. Instead of what I got in third grade: don’t say mean things or hit, only give out warm fuzzies, and play nice. No reasons why though, and all the rich ppl don’t follow those rules either.

  18. Kirsten (in MT) says:

    Oh, sweethearts, this is so AWKWARD.

    I’ll just say it right out, I guess.

    1984 was a WARNING what NOT to do- not an instruction manual.

    You poor dears. You must be so embarrassed! Don’t feel too bad. It seems to be a common mistake these days.

  19. wet_suit_one says:

    Anonymous, the very idea of licenses to parent is, in my view, a liberal idea. Its part of the utopian idea that we can perfect the human species. Fact is, we can’t. Not gonna happen. Human nature is what it is, deal with it accordingly. Licensing parents is not the way to go. Both because of those being licensed and because of those doing the licensing. It’s just a bad, bad, bad idea. Real bad. A huge stinker.

    Leave it be.

    The Wet One

  20. I am very politically liberal, but I TOTALLY agree with the idea of the government requiring a license for people to have children.

    In the utopia that exists solely in my head, every baby born would be safely, painlessly and reversibly sterilized at birth (maybe a tiny IUD for girls and some kind of reversible tubal ligation/block for boys?). Parents would be able to opt out of sterilizing their child, but the child and parents would then be ineligible for a myriad of AWESOME social programs like free/reduced higher education, participation in a universal healthcare plan, various (and LARGE) tax credits/deductions and free academic enrichment programs like Head-Start programs, free daycare, science/music/sports summer camps etc …

    If parents DO choose to participate in the program there would be a rigorous process for the child to have the sterilization devices removed or to be eligible to adopt or foster parent a child. There would be very flexible rules for parenting situations – gay/lesbian couples, single parents and co-parenting situations would be allowed as long as the parties involved meet the following criteria:

    1) Be at least 21 years of age, but no older than 50 years of age

    2) Have stable finances/employment at the time of removal …
    Parents would be required to meet income requirements (in my utopia ALL workers make a livable wage, but there would be social programs in place to help them meet the requirements should they fall short like job placement/re-training, higher education, stipends etc). All parties MUST meet with a financial counselor and come up with feasible long-term goals for a sustainable monthly budget, paying down outstanding debt and saving for retirement and rainy day situations.

    3) Undergo and pass psychological and physical testing …
    Applicants would have to be evaluated by health professionals in order to determine their fitness to be parents. (This is mostly just to weed out potentially abusive parents and pedophiles). People with disabilities and/or other challenges may not necessarily be determined ineligible. Marriage/relationship counseling would be made available for people who may need help to become eligible.

    4) Education requirements ….
    Parents must hold a high school diploma or GED. Those without such education will receive extra benefits to help meet them obtain the necessary education. No preference will be given to those with higher education.

    5) Parenting classes ……..
    All parties wishing to be de-sterilized must undergo mandatory parenting/life skills classes. The classes will cover such topics as basic food handling/cooking skills, child safety, CPR/First Aid, parenting techniques, human/child development, stress-coping techniques, anger management, time management and nutrition. All parties must pass classes at 80%.

    After approval, the parents (in consultation with a counselor) would decide how large (up to 6 children) their “family” will be. The sterilization would be removed and the parents would be free to conceive. Follow-ups would be done after the birth of each child. The family could continue to have more children on their own timetable up to their pre-approved limit. Once the family reaches their set amount of children, re-sterilization would take place.

    It sounds extreme, but really we could relieve SO many social ills if we SUPPORTED families (of every ilk) and made sure that people ONLY had children when they really wanted them.

    • van Rooinek says:

      Parents would be able to opt out of sterilizing their child, but the child and parents would then be ineligible for a myriad of AWESOME social programs like free/reduced higher education, participation in a universal healthcare plan, various (and LARGE) tax credits/deductions and free academic enrichment programs like Head-Start programs, free daycare, science/music/sports summer camps etc …

      Pretty much all conservatives I know, would opt out. Most of them don’t use ANY of these things. Most of them don’t regard these social programs as “AWESOME” at all, or even slightly useful. Some of them make large economic sacrifices to AVOID using such things. I know a large number that have forsaken approximately half their potential family incomes, just in order to keep their kids out of public schools.

      Also… nearly all white people I know, already believe (based on gov’t immigration/border enforcement policy) that somewhere behind closed doors, there is an elite agenda to eliminate or severely reduce them. 100% of white people who believe this, will opt out of your program with gunfire, IEDs, etc, if necessary. They’ll think you’re planning genocide. Can’t speak for the black community but they have even MORE reason to have similar fears, in that Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood) was quite open in her desire to eliminate them.

      we could relieve SO many social ills if we …made sure that people ONLY had children when they really wanted them.

      News flash: Most people who have children, DO really want them. Even the poor. Research shows that making sure welfare moms have access to contraception, for example, does NOT reduce their birthrate materially. As hard as it might be for a sensible middle-class person to understand, these women — whose children drive most of the social pathologies you worry about — do NOT have accidental pregnancies. They generally have out of wedlock babies ON PURPOSE. (And expect the rest of us to support them.)

    • HelloSeattle says:

      dont you think that that would be a bit much for a person to go through, just to have a child? i mean jesus that could take a few weeks.

    • dear anonymous,
      have you forgotten that we live in America? This is still the land of the free. I believe that many nay all of the policies that you wish to institute are very impractical and unconstitutional. The government cannot control how we are supposed to live and dictate our lives. Isn’t that the exact thing that the forefathers tried to get away from? Just something for you to think about

  21. The only way I see that working is if there were “installable” methods of contraception which were at least as normalized as circumcisions currently are. Then, there could be a license to get it removed and thus reproduce. Likely? If only.

  22. wet_suit_one says:

    Consider this, what will be the penalty for having a child without a license? Take the child away? Forced contraception? It only gets worse the more you think about it. How about jail time or a big fine?

    Some of the absurdity of the idea comes in this area. Some of the maliciousness of our good intentions becomes quite clear here too.

    Are we going to punish foolish youngsters whose hormones are flowing at full tilt (while their brains are not) for breaching the “license to parent law”? Are we going to take the youngsters children away? Is that because someone else will care so much more for that child than the child’s own mother even if she is 14 or 16? Really?

    Think about this…

    The Wet One

    • I have thought about it…. And then I look at my older sister who has been a meth addict since she was 15. She’s been pregnant 4 times by 3 different dealers… The first baby died in the womb from my sister overdosing. The second baby she aborted because one day she decided she didn’t want to be pregnant anymore…. We had bought things for this little girl to be born and then she was gone. The other two are now my younger brothers because my parents couldn’t see their grandchildren go into foster care. They both turned out relatively normal. My sister was clean with Degan, but with Ethan… He was born three months early. THREE MONTHS! He wasn’t even two pounds because my idiot of a sister can’t stay away from the crack. I love my brothers/nephews, but I hate how they were brought into this world.
      I propose that, like Germany, we place all young, pubescent teenage girls on birth control. We can regulate this with a shot once a month and it be mandated through, yes, fines! In 2005, in Maricopa County, a county in Arizona, 50,000 children were waiting to be adopted or placed in foster homes. You can’t tell me that that number doesn’t scare you…
      My parents were a great parents. My sister and I were raised the same way and loved just as much, but I ended up attending a Jesuit University on scholarship and she ended up on the streets of only God knows where. You can’t tell me that everyone should bare children. Some people make great parents, but others just simply are not equipped, metal or emotionally stable to be responsible for tiny human beings.
      If we regulate births, as they do in every other country, there would be no such thing as an unwanted pregnancy. What a thought, huh? What if every baby born was born into a family of loving parents who could provide food, clothing, toys, love, support along with a stable environment/home? What if every baby born was born to parents who desperately wanted children? Can you imagine how much love that baby/child/teen/adult would receive?!!
      I say yes. We should be required to obtain a license in order to give birth. God gave us this ability to reproduce, but we are abusing it in the worst way. We need to regulate who has children to save not only our idea of a family life, but to save our country as well.

      • van Rooinek says:

        If we regulate births, as they do in every other country,

        What other countries do this beside China (and, more covertly, India)? Seriously… most countries do NOT regulate births.

  23. The auto-refresh things is a serious annoyance. Just as I was about to press “Post-Comment”, my comment got wiped out.

    In brief, people would be wise to ensure that they are in a stable, happy (reasonably so), and permanent marriage prior to producing children. It’s in their own best interests but is a much better arrangement for children. That is not to say that single and/or divorced parents can’t be excellent parents but is a great single mother really better than a great married mother and father who can co-parent?

    Someone’s going to argue that a single or divorced parent household is better than an extremely abusive yada, yada. Obviously. However, that is why I said that they should have a “stable, happy (reasonably so), and permanent marriage.”

  24. wet_suit_one says:

    It’s a slippery slope too dangerous to get on. Ever hear of the eugenics movement from the early 20th century? It was basically the same idea. It was totally discredited and much abused. It was in fact part of Nazi ideology.

    While the idea of “licensing parents” in a benign sense has some merit (everyone can see that), in the real world, with the tremendous power that would give some people over others (and we know how that typically turns out), it would be a nightmare. It would be like having an authority decide on who can breathe and who can’t.

    People have fundamental needs which are tied to their being living organisms. Food, air, water, shelter, elimination and reproduction are the biological ones. No one individual needs to reproduce, but it is without question a real biological need. You might as well make the argument that some people need a license to eat given the obesity epidemic. That should go over about as well as a license to have a child.

    I know it sounds all good and wonderful on the surface, but I promise you (a dark and evil promise if there was one) it will end very very badly.

    The Wet One

    • van Rooinek says:

      While the idea of “licensing parents” in a benign sense has some merit (everyone can see that), in the real world, with the tremendous power that would give some people over others (and we know how that typically turns out), it would be a nightmare

      Just wait til either Blacks, or White Fundamentalists, or Mormons, or some other large/armed/unpopular group, believes that it is being discriminated against in the permit process, with a view towards eliminating them. Guaranteed mass noncompliance at a minimum, and possible violence.

      Then there’s enforcement. Contraception? Good luck, this gov’t can hardly convince anyone to get a flu shot. Forced abortion for those who get preggo without permit? Works in China, but not in a country where there are 250 million privately owned guns and all the major religious say that abortion is murder. “You are NOT gonna kill MY BABY!!!! Blam blam blam!!!” After a few previously law-abiding, peaceful, churchgoing Daddies get killed in police shootouts, defending wife and baby from the government knife, you’ll have open calls for war emanating from the pulpits — which hasn’t happpened since the 1770s.

      Don’t try to licence parenting. It’s your funeral.

  25. Yes, I agree, and no it will never happen. There’s all kinds of inherent cultural and socio-economic and racial quagmires surrounding this idea.


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